It’s rare that i still find the Blue Frog setting up, but a particularly early start today meant that they were still hanging signs and fixing the tent. The coffee, when it landed, was perfect. A carefully choreographed start to my Monday.
Blue Frog is the popup coffee shop that appears as a transient feature outside my local railway station: i’ve written about it before, in relation to the notion of ‘emergent community’, but today, my thinking is about infrastructure and permanence.
There is an irony that, whilst the rest of the station is in a state of retrenchment and decline, the coffee shop is thriving: the station house is largely locked up, with just a couple of electronic ticket machines, and a peak time attendant, whilst outside it’s front door is a vibrant, transient, community space.
It’s that space itself, and the notions of permanence, that i wanted to reflect upon today.
I’ve previously shared some work exploring the ‘sanctity’ of space: the premise is that historically, power was held sacrosanct, that we used separate spaces to define seniority, and used exclusivity to gain status, whilst much of both the technology, and the mindset, of the Social Age lies around the democratisation of spaces, and the erosion of sanctity.
The other notion that i have touched upon previously is ‘when strength becomes weakness’, a phrase i first sketched for ‘Social Leadership: my 1st 100 days’, and that i’ve touched on again, more recently, for the ‘Dereliction Walk’. It follows the narrative that, as social systems find purpose, become productive at a specific task or service, they secrete, and accrete, infrastructure, which coalesces into our physical environment. The roads, buildings, power grids, and patterns of settlement, all deriving from (and acting as a shadow of) the underlying social purpose and organisation.
As modes of social organisation change, our relationship with the built environment does so too, and i feel that this is being reflected in a fundamental shift in that relationship. Whilst power and status used to come from grandiosity and scale, perhaps more so now it is forged upon reputation and relevance, social responsibility, and accountability, as well as synchronous engagement, and humility. Organisations that thrive today may do so less as an entity that squats upon and drains the community, so much as one that acts in service of, and through the permission of the community.
At first, i wondered why the coffee shop did not try to rent, or borrow, the formal space of the station house, but now i realise, as they set up the tent and chairs, that it gains part of it’s authenticity precisely because it does not. In some ways, it sits in contrast, in opposition to, the formal architecture that is falling derelict.
The shift is not simply a physical one: for many global brands, reputation itself is fully externalised, held in a far more dynamic, and evolving, series of conversations within the community. And these conversations move ever further beyond formal control: we cannot insist that they are instigated, nor deny their validity if we do not enjoy them. The story told by our community is one that is imposed upon us, willingly or otherwise.
At heart, the story of Blue Frog is one of simplicity: it’s a story of hard work, and determination, beyond any formal system. And i like how it sits defiantly on the doorstep of power. A subtle reminder that the mass and momentum of codified power, the bricks and steel of legacy, may be the mass that carries us right over the edge of the cliff.